Dear Parent of a Struggling Child: This One’s for You

Dear Parent,

Right off the bat let me confess I am not a parent, nor do I profess to have any idea what it feels like to be one. However, in my role as a youth worker I have learned what it is like to love a child deeply, to be moved to tears by their hurts, to be gripped with anxiety about the safety and security of their bodies and souls, and to feel responsible for their care. I can only image how difficult it would be to carry those profound emotions and responsibilities for your own flesh and blood, night and day, all of the time.

I have been privileged in my journey as a student leader to sit with many a struggling teenager, and to hear their stories. At times, I have also also been afforded the opportunity to engage with parents whose children were having a difficult time. I have seen parents react in many different ways to their student’s struggles: some parents ask for prayer, some ask for me to keep their child’s story a secret, others attempt to find a quick-fix for their child’s problem, and others give up hope altogether.

Maybe your child’s story involves self-harm, an eating disorder, bullying, or depression. If your son or daughter is struggling with something that seems outside of your control, this post is for you.

I write this with the hope of encouraging those who are blessed to bear the deep responsibility of being a parent. As a youth worker, it is a privilege to be trusted in any capacity with your son or daughter. Your children are beautiful, each one fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of their creator.

I. Thank You

We love your children and God loves them even more. I am sorry that your child is hurting. As youth workers, it can be hard for us to know how to talk to you. Many of us are in our twenties and to be frank, we do not have much experience with adults (although we are now supposedly considered one). We do not have all the answers. A lot of times you tell me that you are thankful for me because it is easier for me to relate to your child, but know this: your love is the love your child longs for more than anyone else’s. No matter how cool you think I am, I cannot replace you, nor would I ever want to. No matter how broken your relationship might be with your child, you have been blessed and tasked with the privilege of that relationship. Because of your love for God and His love for you, I pray that you too would teach your child about God (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). It is a tall order, but praise God that He is in control and will lovingly and graciously show you the way.

II. Beauty out of Brokenness

Wherever your child is in their struggle, know this: you are not a failure. You are not the author of your child’s life and God is not surprised by their struggle – not even a little. In fact, He is writing their story. Yes, you are a broken sinner just as I am. Yes, you may have done things as a parent you wish you could take back. But our God is a God of healing and redemption who creates beauty in a world full of brokenness. He yearns for you and cares for you as much as he does your child. He is in control of their life and yours. Do not give up – press on for the sake of Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).

III. You are Deeply Loved

More than anything, I pray that you know that you are loved. You are the son or daughter of a King. God’s grace is for you; His righteousness is yours to claim. Maybe you feel like you have somehow messed up as a parent and cannot go back. I have heard parents say in hopelessness, “I just can’t reach them,” or “they don’t want to talk to me.” Press into the truth. Press into the love your Father has for you, and go to Him with your doubts and fears. I know what it feels like to make a gesture out of love for a student, and feel the hurt of their subsequent rejection. I cannot imagine how amplified that feeling is for you. Your job to care for your child goes far deeper than mine. Yet, as you seek our King and seek to care for your child, know that He is with you always.

IV. Trust

Finally, take heart in the truth of His promises. I do not know how long your student is going to struggle, and I do not know how dark their road may become. I do know that we serve a God who knows us before birth and promises to carry us into old age (Isaiah 46:3-4). I also know that no matter how dark the darkness seems, light always shines in the darkness and will not be overcome it (John 1:4). As much as you long for your God to break into your student’s life, know that He is also breaking into yours. Seek Him in all things. He is the author of our lives. Surrendering control to Him is one of the most difficult, yet beautiful acts of trust we can offer.

I am so thankful for your child. What a privilege to stand alongside students in their struggles and, more so, what a gift we have in Christ Jesus who pulls each one of us – parent, youth worker, and child – back towards Himself every day, in His own (sometimes un-seeable) ways. When we are at a loss, His Spirit intercedes for us, praying on our behalf when all we have are groans (Romans 8:26). Go to Him with confidence! Healing is often a long and beautiful journey as we await with all of creation the future glory promised through God’s redemption of all brokenness (Romans 8:18-25). May we encourage one another on our journeys, standing united together and finding our hope in the truth of His promises.

It’s important to note that if you or a loved one is struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK, or visit your nearest emergency room.

Join us for Rooted 2016, an intimate youth ministry conference, where we will explore the good news that God’s grace is sufficient for our relationships: with ourselves, with others, with the world, and with God. Jesus is our reconciliation yesterday, today, and forever.

To learn more about gospel centered youth ministry, check out more articles and podcasts from Rooted’s youth ministry blog.

Prior to pursuing her Master's in Counseling, Devan served for three years as a high school director in Bethesda, Maryland. As she worked with high school students, she loved and felt privileged to listen to students stories and seek to walk alongside them in their struggles and joys. Devan is passionate about building relationships and sharing life stories in community in order to provide spaces for people to be known and loved.

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